Many industries rely heavily on seasonal workers over the busy summer months. Employers hiring seasonal workers need to take care that their contractual arrangements with those employees are consistent with fixed term, rather than permanent employment to avoid employees challenging their dismissal at the end of the season.
A recent Employment Court case,Turner v Talley’s Group Ltdwas decided in favour of the employee, who claimed that she was unjustifiably dismissed from her seasonal employment at a fish processing factory.
Ms Turner had been employed on a number of employment agreements over several years. The most recent agreement stated that she was employed as a ‘seasonal employee’, and that if the season extended further than the usual period she would become a ‘casual employee’. When she was told she would not have on-going employment, Ms Turner raised a personal grievance, claiming unjustified dismissal.
Talley’s argued that it was justified in ending her employment as the season had ended.
The Court did not agree.
The Court ruled that although seasonal employment within the fish processing industry fell within the meaning of “fixed-term” employment, Talley’s had failed to meet the legal requirements for employing Ms Turner on a fixed-term basis. The Court ruled that she was a permanent employee.
Fixed term employees under the Employment Relations Act
The Employment Relations Act sets out specific requirements employers must comply with when using a fixed term agreement. These are:
- An employer must have genuine reasons for employing someone on a fixed term basis;
- Fixed term employees must be given a written employment agreement;
- The reasons for the fixed-term must be set out in the agreement;
- The agreement must state how and when the employee’s employment will end.
Failing to comply with these requirements could lead to employees being treated as permanent employees, with the ability to bring a personal grievance claim for unjustified dismissal.